Understanding Liver Disease in Cats

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/20/20242-4 minutes
Cat is lying down

Liver disease in cats is a fairly common condition which can be managed effectively when spotted early. If your vet has diagnosed a liver condition in your cat, providing your cat with the right diet is essential to helping them stay healthy in the long term. 

This article explains why the liver is important, what kinds of problems can occur, and how nutrition can help improve your cat’s quality of life. 

What the Liver Does

The liver is one of the largest organs in your pet’s body. Nestled between the lungs and the stomach, it can be sensitive to disease and damage, which is why it’s important to know more about its functions. As in the human body, a cat’s liver performs many roles that are essential to their health. It produces hormones, proteins, and glucose (energy) while also clearing waste products, drugs, and toxins from the blood. 

Another main function of the liver is that it stores useful nutrients such as vitamins, iron, and energy. Plus, it also helps fight infections by producing immune factors and removing bacteria from the blood, ensuring that your cat stays healthy and happy. A properly functioning liver will also help your pet’s body to digest and absorb fat as well as other important nutrients.

Symptoms of Liver Disease in Cats

Liver disease in cats is a serious condition that can get worse over time when left untreated. It’s especially important to talk to your vet about your concerns if you notice any of the signs listed below:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Cats with chronic (long-term) liver disease often show vague, non-specific signs like loss of appetite, lethargy, and weight loss
  • Acute (sudden) liver disease has much more obvious signs that include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal swelling, fever, excessive thirst and urination, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin, whites of the eyes, and gums)
  • Very severe liver disease can lead to the build-up of large amounts of toxins in the blood, which can affect the brain, causing disorientation, confusion, and “hepatic encephalopathy” seizures

What Causes Liver Disease in Cats?

Several things can affect your cat’s liver function. Some of them can be prevented with proper care while others can appear quite suddenly due to genetics or certain predispositions. These potential causes include:

  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Poisons
  • Hepatitis (liver inflammation), which is often due to an unknown cause and can sometimes lead to scarring, or cirrhosis
  • Tumors
  • Genetic problems in some breeds  
  • Inherited problems related to the liver’s blood vessels, called “portosystemic shunts”
  • Fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis)

The age, weight, and breed of your cat can also increase their likelihood of developing liver issues. For instance, it’s considerably more common for senior cats, overweight cats, and certain breeds such as Siamese cats to develop liver disease. It goes without saying that a veterinarian is the only person that can diagnose a cat with a liver problem or any other disease, after first performing a thorough examination. In certain cases, some tests, X-rays, or even CT scans might be needed for a correct diagnosis and have a complete understanding of your cat’s liver problems.

Can a Cat Recover From Liver Disease?

The short answer is yes, it’s certainly possible for cats to recover from liver disease. However, it’s not easy. Cats are very reluctant to being medicated and they typically get stressed if their environment changes because of being hospitalized. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Depending on your cat and the various treatments available, it’s completely feasible for your furry friend to recover.

How is Liver Disease Treated in Cats?

Cat liver disease treatment depends on the diagnosis. Your vet will most likely recommend changing your cat’s diet along with other specific measures. You should also know that a liver biopsy might be required to determine the cause of the disease and its proper treatment. However, it’s an invasive procedure usually done either as a simple surgical biopsy or as a needle biopsy. Your cat will be under an anesthetic the whole time so there’ll be minimal discomfort.

Normally, no hospitalization is needed for cats with mild symptoms of liver disease. This means you’ll be able to keep them at home and treat them with medications that help minimize the nausea and the vomiting so that they’re able to eat properly. If, however, more worrying symptoms such as weight loss or dehydration are present, your cat may need constant supervision by medical staff in a veterinary hospital. Since liver problems can also affect the health of other organs, it’s best to closely monitor the recovery of your cat.

Is There a Cat Liver Disease Diet?

The liver is an organ that has an amazing ability to regenerate itself, and it can still function when up to 75% is diseased or removed. A specially formulated diet can serve as an effective treatment for liver disease in cats, helping to manage the disease and getting your cat’s liver back to normal.

Want more cat health tips? Get advice from our experts with our other cat health articles

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